Книга Adventure. Содержание - CHAPTER XIV-THE MARTHA
And after it was all over, and a terse and business-like agreement (by her urging) drawn up and signed, Sheldon paced up and down for a full hour, meditating upon how many different kinds of a fool he had made of himself. It was an impossible situation, and yet no more impossible than the previous one, and no more impossible than the one that would have obtained had she gone off on her own and bought Pari-Sulay. He had never seen a more independent woman who stood more in need of a protector than this boy-minded girl who had landed on his beach with eight picturesque savages, a long– barrelled revolver, a bag of gold, and a gaudy merchandise of imagined romance and adventure.
He had never read of anything to compare with it. The fictionists, as usual, were exceeded by fact. The whole thing was too preposterous to be true. He gnawed his moustache and smoked cigarette after cigarette. Satan, back from a prowl around the compound, ran up to him and touched his hand with a cold, damp nose. Sheldon caressed the animal's ears, then threw himself into a chair and laughed heartily. What would the Commissioner of the Solomons think? What would his people at home think? And in the one breath he was glad that the partnership had been effected and sorry that Joan Lackland had ever come to the Solomons. Then he went inside and looked at himself in a hand-mirror. He studied the reflection long and thoughtfully and wonderingly.
CHAPTER XIV-THE MARTHA
They were deep in a game of billiards the next morning, after the eleven o'clock breakfast, when Viaburi entered and announced, –
«Big fella schooner close up.»
Even as he spoke, they heard the rumble of chain through hawse– pipe, and from the veranda saw a big black-painted schooner, swinging to her just-caught anchor.
«It's a Yankee,» Joan cried. «See that bow! Look at that elliptical stern! Ah, I thought so-« as the Stars and Stripes fluttered to the mast-head.
Noa Noah, at Sheldon's direction, ran the Union Jack up the flag– staff.
«Now what is an American vessel doing down here?» Joan asked. «It's not a yacht, though I'll wager she can sail. Look! Her name! What is it?»
«Martha, San Francisco,» Sheldon read, looking through the telescope. «It's the first Yankee I ever heard of in the Solomons. They are coming ashore, whoever they are. And, by Jove, look at those men at the oars. It's an all-white crew. Now what reason brings them here?»
«They're not proper sailors,» Joan commented. «I'd be ashamed of a crew of black-boys that pulled in such fashion. Look at that fellow in the bow-the one just jumping out; he'd be more at home on a cow-pony.»
The boat's-crew scattered up and down the beach, ranging about with eager curiosity, while the two men who had sat in the stern-sheets opened the gate and came up the path to the bungalow. One of them, a tall and slender man, was clad in white ducks that fitted him like a semi-military uniform. The other man, in nondescript garments that were both of the sea and shore, and that must have been uncomfortably hot, slouched and shambled like an overgrown ape. To complete the illusion, his face seemed to sprout in all directions with a dense, bushy mass of red whiskers, while his eyes were small and sharp and restless.
Sheldon, who had gone to the head of the steps, introduced them to Joan. The bewhiskered individual, who looked like a Scotsman, had the Teutonic name of Von Blix, and spoke with a strong American accent. The tall man in the well-fitting ducks, who gave the English name of Tudor-John Tudor-talked purely-enunciated English such as any cultured American would talk, save for the fact that it was most delicately and subtly touched by a faint German accent. Joan decided that she had been helped to identify the accent by the short German-looking moustache that did not conceal the mouth and its full red lips, which would have formed a Cupid's bow but for some harshness or severity of spirit that had moulded them masculinely.
Von Blix was rough and boorish, but Tudor was gracefully easy in everything he did, or looked, or said. His blue eyes sparkled and flashed, his clean-cut mobile features were an index to his slightest shades of feeling and expression. He bubbled with enthusiasms, and his faintest smile or lightest laugh seemed spontaneous and genuine. But it was only occasionally at first that he spoke, for Von Blix told their story and stated their errand.
They were on a gold-hunting expedition. He was the leader, and Tudor was his lieutenant. All hands-and there were twenty-eight– were shareholders, in varying proportions, in the adventure. Several were sailors, but the large majority were miners, culled from all the camps from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. It was the old and ever-untiring pursuit of gold, and they had come to the Solomons to get it. Part of them, under the leadership of Tudor, were to go up the Balesuna and penetrate the mountainous heart of Guadalcanar, while the Martha, under Von Blix, sailed away for Malaita to put through similar exploration.
«And so,» said Von Blix, «for Mr. Tudor's expedition we must have some black-boys. Can we get them from you?»
«Of course we will pay,» Tudor broke in. «You have only to charge what you consider them worth. You pay them six pounds a year, don't you?»
«In the first place we can't spare them,» Sheldon answered. «We are short of them on the plantation as it is.»
«WE?» Tudor asked quickly. «Then you are a firm or a partnership? I understood at Guvutu that you were alone, that you had lost your partner.»
Sheldon inclined his head toward Joan, and as he spoke she felt that he had become a trifle stiff.
«Miss Lackland has become interested in the plantation since then. But to return to the boys. We can't spare them, and besides, they would be of little use. You couldn't get them to accompany you beyond Binu, which is a short day's work with the boats from here. They are Malaita-men, and they are afraid of being eaten. They would desert you at the first opportunity. You could get the Binu men to accompany you another day's journey, through the grass– lands, but at the first roll of the foothills look for them to turn back. They likewise are disinclined to being eaten.»
«Is it as bad as that?» asked Von Blix.
«The interior of Guadalcanar has never been explored,» Sheldon explained. «The bushmen are as wild men as are to be found anywhere in the world to-day. I have never seen one. I have never seen a man who has seen one. They never come down to the coast, though their scouting parties occasionally eat a coast native who has wandered too far inland. Nobody knows anything about them. They don't even use tobacco-have never learned its use. The Austrian expedition-scientists, you know-got part way in before it was cut to pieces. The monument is up the beach there several miles. Only one man got back to the coast to tell the tale. And now you have all I or any other man knows of the inside of Guadalcanar.»
«But gold-have you heard of gold?» Tudor asked impatiently. «Do you know anything about gold?»
Sheldon smiled, while the two visitors hung eagerly upon his words.
«You can go two miles up the Balesuna and wash colours from the gravel. I've done it often. There is gold undoubtedly back in the mountains.»
Tudor and Von Blix looked triumphantly at each other.
«Old Wheatsheaf's yarn was true, then,» Tudor said, and Von Blix nodded. «And if Malaita turns out as well-«
Tudor broke off and looked at Joan.
«It was the tale of this old beachcomber that brought us here,» he explained. «Von Blix befriended him and was told the secret.» He turned and addressed Sheldon. «I think we shall prove that white men have been through the heart of Guadalcanar long before the time of the Austrian expedition.»